I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately. Mainly about airline seating configurations, upgrade value and an occasionally something that’s just slightly outside my wheelhouse. This week I take on the latter and answer this modhopper question about which miles program to join.

“Can you help me figure out which airline rewards program to join? One of my friends is moving out west and I plan to visit often!”  @margiestrange in NYC via twitter.

Hi Margie. With so many airlines competing for business out of NYC to the west coast, the short answer is “all of them”. Depending on your friend’s new locale you might end up flying one airline more often but I’m quickly becoming part of the “to hell with loyalty” set. If you plan to travel several times a year you may, on occasion, want to lean on one carrier if you don’t find much difference in price. For example, if you’ve already amassed 20,000 miles on Delta putting you 5000 miles away from a possible  free flight then it might be worth it to buy a ticket that’s a few dollars more than the closest competitor. That said, there are plenty of experienced mileage experts that will be quick to tell you that you’ll find next to zero free flights aboard Delta for that low-mileage threshold.

Another thing to consider is where your friend is moving. If it’s Seattle or Juneau, look into Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. They partner with a good number of  airlines, giving you some solid and interesting  redemption opportunities. If it’s somewhere more competitive like Los Angeles or San Francisco then I say grab miles from whoever and just favor the best fare. I say just sign up for the programs as you go. Flying Jet Blue to Burbank? Sign up for True Blue. Flying United to LAX? Sign up for Mileage Plus.

If you find yourself flying a LOT, then you may become interested in becoming more loyal to an airline. The most frequent flyers get perks like domestic upgrades, priority boarding and better seat selection. 25,000 flown miles in a calendar year typically gets you the lowest tier which is increasingly worthless in my opinion. It’s when you get to the upper tiers when these elite programs become more valuable with more frequent upgrades and  other next-level benefits. That’s when I start deferring questions to bloggers like The Points Guy and Lucky at One Mile at a Time.

Daring to venture into credit card territory, I use my colleagues most basic advice and carry the Chase Sapphire card which allows 1:1 mileage transfers of it’s points to your United Mileage Plus or Hyatt Hotels accounts. Also the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card from American Express which allows similar transfers to Delta and others. There are tons of options in the credit card/points world but these have been the most consistent options for point/mile hungry frequent travelers in recent years.

The miles game can get annoyingly complicated but few will argue that you should be earning something every time you fly. My “all of them” approach is at least a good way to start while you get a feel for what airline or airlines you like the best.

We’ll get you started with direct links to the signup pages for a few:

Delta Sky MilesAmerican AAdvantage | United Mileage Plus | US Airways Dividend Miles

Hope that helps!



Ask Jake a question about air travel upgrades like premium seating, airport lounges or hotels:

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